Page 1



SYM05_Symbiosis AR 2020 AW.indd 1

26/10/20 10:06 pm


THE SYMBIOSIS EDGE Established reputation delivering quality programs in partnership for maximum impact Committed to transformation through sustainable empowerment, not handouts Focused on forgotten people including those living with disability and the socially marginalised Tackling poverty at its roots with culturally sensitive and effective local solutions Operating with integrity through relationship, mutual respect and financial accountability

Director’s Report


25 Years of Working Together for Good


Planting the Seed of Change


Our Big-Hearted Supporters


Proactive Leadership


Symbiosis Group Model


A Vision of Generational Change


Symbiotic and Social Enterprise


Symbiosis Visitor Program


The Birth of a New Project


Symbiosis Health and Disability Programs


SYM05_Symbiosis AR 2020 AW.indd 2-3

LISA WEST-NEWMAN Chief Executive Officer

This has been an incredibly significant year for Symbiosis. Not only have we celebrated 25 years of empowering the poor in Bangladesh, we have also transitioned from our founding CEO to one from the next generation, established a new project using new research tools, worked to integrate the activities of our newly acquired social enterprise partner, and negotiated the challenges of COVID-19, all with the help of our big-hearted supporters and the Australian Government. The 25 year celebration held in Bangladesh in January was a joyful gathering of current and former staff, and supporters from around the globe. At the gathering, Morris Lee introduced Lisa to the team. He spoke of grandfather's "kodal" or hoe, reminding us that despite the number of times the handle or the blade was replaced, it was still grandfather's hoe. Symbiosis will still be Symbiosis. The staff, while saddened at Morris stepping down, were incredibly gracious and welcoming to Lisa. Symbiosis would never have been what it is without the visionary partnership of Morris and the late Mr Akand. Highlights of this partnership are captured in a timeline of the organisation, and celebrated in an article about how the first seeds of change were planted 25 years ago (page 4&5).


Page 2 | Symbiosis Annual Report 2020


Symbiosis Vocational Training and Childhood Education Programs Financial Reports

13 14-17

Directors Declaration


Vision Mission Values


Going the Distance


* All $ figures used throughout the report are in Australian dollars.

This partnership has grown a truly local and empowering approach to overcoming poverty through the creation of savings groups and eventually community based organisations, while also providing access to services such as vocational training, education and health care. Research conducted by a team from Western Sydney University in 2018 has led to a new three year project in Northern areas of Bangladesh funded entirely through a Christmas Appeal by the Gateway Baptist Church community. This kind of approach is something we hope to replicate in other areas in the future.

DR ABDUR RAHMAN Country Director

Symbiosis Friendship Tower in Mymensingh in 2011. Our social enterprise efforts were severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lock-down in Bangladesh, challenging Symbiotic's profitability in the short to medium term. Symbiosis's training courses, schools and preschools were also shut down from April, while staff worked tirelessly to raise awareness of COVID-safe practices into the communities through our groups. Unable to travel or even leave their homes, our team led by our Country Director (and medical doctor) Dr Rahman quickly learned to connect via technology and responded to the crisis gallantly. Project staff provided COVID awareness sessions in communities and we soon heard stories of community based organisations providing relief to members. Our team also directed relief funds through CBOs to provide interest free loans to members in most need. Many groups could not meet for a time, but our 18,763 group members have either continued to save, accessed their savings to help provide for necessities of life, or received tangible help from their groups. Together, our beneficiaries are stronger in the face of adversity, at a time when the World Bank predicts another 21 million people in Bangladesh will be plunged into poverty. If we could learn one thing from the current pandemic, it is that the work of Symbiosis is of vital importance to the poorest and most marginalised people of Bangladesh. It is a difference we hope to be able to show you into the future through our new research tools and capacity. Our big-hearted supporters, enthusiastic volunteers and dedicated staff have carried us through an incredibly difficult time and we are finishing the year in a much healthier position than was predicted. For this, we are incredibly grateful.

Our social enterprise efforts have been a growing focus over the years to improve the long-term sustainability of the organisation, particularly since the construction of the

Page 3 | Symbiosis Annual Report 2020

26/10/20 10:06 pm



1995 - 1999

2000 - 2004

2005 - 2009

2010 - 2014

2015 - 2019

o Morris Lee (CEO) and Bangladeshi national Abdul Mottalib Akand (Country Director) form Symbiosis, commenced work in April 1995 with 3 projects, 35 staff and a budget of less than $100,000.

oB  udget increases to approx $400,000 thanks to major new donor TEAR Australia, enabling the program to expand significantly.

o2  1 projects in 10 districts are now operating.

oA  group of Australian hairdressers establish a new vocational training project in hairdressing.

o 1 ,500 children attend Symbiosis Primary and Preschools.

oA  n agricultural training project commences to help farmers maximise yield and income.

oS  ymbiosis groups begin to form alliances to increase voice in community – now known as Community Based Organisations (CBOs).

o9  ,000+ people, including 2,800 children have their vision tested through the SPECS project.

oA  multi-purpose centre at Madarganj is built with funding from the Australian High Commission.

oA  Disability Resource Officer is appointed to increase our capacity to work with people in the projects living with disability.

oW  omen make up 43% of employees and head up 15 of the projects.

oS  ymbiosis’s social enterprise arm, Symbiotic, constructs amulti-purpose facility, Friendship Tower in Mymensingh, with support from key donors and volunteers.

oO  ver five years the staff number doubles to 70. o4  0 Symbiosis Groups are established with 800 members and $7,000 in savings.

oA  project on a sandbar island in the Jamuna River is established, including the first Symbiosis Primary School. oP  roject in Maternal and Child Health begins with focus on training traditional village birth attendants. oA  n arsenic mitigation project is launched, to test tube-wells in project areas. oS  ocial enterprise activity begins with a fish farm. oS  ymbiosis Group Members now number more than 8,000, with more than $120,000 in savings.

oA  t the 10-year mark, Symbiosis is working in 12 of Bangladesh’s 64 districts with a total budget of $650,000 and over 200 staff. oA  round 2,000 new Symbiosis Group Members are being added each year and have total savings of over $225,000.

PLANTING THE SEED OF CHANGE In 2020 we celebrate 25 years of working together for good in Bangladesh as well as a changing of the guard from our founding CEO. Australian co-founder of Symbiosis, Dr Morris Lee OAM, stepped out of the role of CEO at the end of June 2020 after twenty-five years of working with executive staff in Bangladesh to develop, coordinate and implement the programs of Symbiosis Bangladesh, and realising the vision of Symbiosis International. He will now move into the ongoing position of Patron of the organisation, a responsibility he describes as being like a boro bhai - older brother - to bring encouragement to those who have stepped into his very large shoes to lead the organisation forward. Morris and his wife Roslyn first moved to Bangladesh in 1977 as staff with an organisation which had worked in Bengal, East Pakistan and Bangladesh since 1882 and was responsible for schools, hostels, hospitals and clinics. In 1991, these institutions were handed over to relevant Bangladeshi national bodies to operate.

Morris and Roslyn returned to their hometown of Brisbane to raise their young family. However Morris found that his call to continue to serve the people of Bangladesh, who still faced so much need, remained strong. Dr Neil Parker, also from Australia, had arrived in Bangladesh the same year as Morris, working as a medical doctor at Joyramkura Hospital in Northern Bangladesh. During his tenure he had established the Joyramkura Primary Health Care Project: a community program which provided basic life skills (such as literacy, numeracy, hygiene and nutrition) to people in extreme poverty. Morris was so inspired by seeing this program in action, the concept became the foundation for the Symbiosis Groups which remain the focus of our core work today.

Dr Morris Lee was awarded an Order of Australia medal for 'service to the international community of Bangladesh' in 2020. A fitting tribute after more than four decades of work addressing poverty and disadvantage in Bangladesh, including the 25 years as CEO of Symbiosis.

SYM05_Symbiosis AR 2020 AW.indd 4-5

oS  ymbiosis Group Members exceed 17,000 with savings and investments of over $1 million.

oO  ver 100 babies are delivered safely at the new Maternal Health unit. o3  9 CBOs are formally registered with the Government of Bangladesh by 2019. oR  esearch by the University of Western Sydney confirms the significant impact of our work in the community. oS  ymbiosis gains full membership of the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID). oS  ymbiosis Group Members exceed 18,000 in 976 groups, with savings and investments of over $2 million.

Bangladeshi national Mr Akand, a friend of both Neil and Morris, was an essential partner to Morris in the establishment of Symbiosis. They shared a vision of establishing a process of development that was empowering, holistic, sustainable and importantly, locally ‘grown’. Morris and Akand proceeded to turn that vision into a reality with the first of the Symbiosis projects in place by 1995. The poorest of the poor were brought together in groups of 20 in their villages to receive a basic education in numeracy and literacy, through which they would also have the opportunity to learn about important health and topics of societal significance. Eventually this program would enable many to establish their own businesses or develop skills that would better enable them to find work and earn a more sustainable income for their family. Morris tells us however, that when he and Akand initially shared their vision for sustainable development with people in both Bangladesh and Australia, many were extremely skeptical as to whether this program could succeed and deliver the outcomes that they were aiming for. However there were many who saw the potential, embraced the vision, and have remained dedicated supporters to this day, both financially, but importantly serving as board members, staff members and volunteers. The Symbiosis Groups now number close to 1,000 in 13 projects in Bangladesh, each focused on the importance of increasing people's ability to solve problems as they work together for good.

One of Morris’s great joys over the years has been seeing staff whose dedication to their work has resulted in them being genuinely respected and loved by the people with whom they work. Symbiosis’s Bangladeshi staff have always been chosen not only for their skills, but also their ability to relate to the people that they serve, and are often recruited from their own communities. Relationships are key to being effective when working in conservative cultures, particularly when approaching sometimes complex traditional issues such as child marriage, safer child birthing and respect for women. The distinctive philosophy of Symbiosis balances a strong commitment to cultural sensitivity with an understanding that tradition and culture should serve people and not the other way around. It has always been critical that staff were imbued with a strong understanding of this philosophy and that they reflect it daily in their work. Dr M A Rahman, the present Country Director was appointed in 2014 after Mr Akand passed away in 2012. Lisa WestNewman who has previously lived and worked in Cambodia for ten years, has now stepped into the role of CEO in Australia. We thank and honour Morris and Roslyn for their work and sacrifice over the past 25 years and acknowledge their selfless devotion to the people of Bangladesh through Symbiosis, that has resulted in such a significant legacy.

In November 2019, the Symbiosis International Board was pleased to announce the appointment of Lisa West-Newman as the new CEO of Symbiosis. As a Symbiosis Board Member over several years, Lisa has gained excellent insight into our work. She brings with her 10 years of experience in community development work in South East Asia. Morris and Lisa worked together during the first half of 2020 as Morris sought to impart knowledge and experience gleaned over 25 years to the CEO Elect who commenced officially in the role in July 2020. Morris will continue to make himself available as an advisor as required.

26/10/20 10:06 pm

IN 2019/2020 YOUR SUPPORT HAS HELPED: 18,763 people in 983 Symbiosis groups continue to meet regularly to save money together and facilitate loans to one another for income generating enterprises. These groups between them now have $2.2 million in savings and investments taking the total registered to an average of $2,200 per group. 39 of the 61 Community Based Organisations (CBOs) to now reach registration. In addition to the new Symbiosis groups we have established, the CBOs have also started 16 groups of their own volition based on the Symbiosis model. 280 of Bangladesh’s poorest people gain a functional education, providing them with essential numeracy and literacy skills, at the same time as raising their awareness about important health, nutrition, hygiene, environmental and women’s rights issues.

5623 new mothers and fathers participate in awareness sessions to improve knowledge and application of pre and postnatal care of mothers and children. 3870 people have their eyes tested through our SPECS clinics and mobile services. 206 people also attended Village Vision days, receiving an eye check with surgery also provided to 26 people identified with bilateral blindness due to cataract. 89 people attend disability awareness sessions, with 20 people with disability, or carers of people with disability, participating in vocational training to improve their opportunities to generate income. Additionally 10 people with a disability received assistive devices like wheel chairs, crutches and modified shoes. 627 people gain new skills through Symbiosis vocational training programs to enhance their employability. 712 students boost their education through 5 Symbiosis Primary Schools and 14 Symbiosis Preschools.

PROACTIVE LEADERSHIP Our team in Bangladesh, led by Country Director Dr Rahman, was quick to respond when Bangladesh recorded their first cases of COVID-19 and associated deaths in March 2020. The COVID safety advice provided by the Australian Government was translated and quickly disseminated through our networks to encourage everyone to take the core steps of regularly washing their hands and maintaining social distance. Hygiene and sanitation classes form part of the standard functional education that our group members receive, and this saw our beneficiaries already equipped to face this new challenge. With the new information provided around important steps in safe-guarding against the virus, they are now even better prepared to advocate for good hygiene in the face of this additional health threat in their communities. But no one is immune and the impact of COVID-19 inevitably caused major disruptions across the nation. The Bangladesh Government took steps in April to gain some control over the spread with schools closed, public transport decreased, large gatherings banned, businesses closed and people told to return to their village homes. Our

OUR BIG-HEARTED SUPPORTERS The generosity of our supporters is inspiring. We thank you for your ongoing big-heartedness, more than ever in this year of uncertainty.

Page 6 | Symbiosis Annual Report 2020

SYM05_Symbiosis AR 2020 AW.indd 6-7

Our staff all went into isolation, maintaining contact with the groups they work with and support by phone. Reported COVID cases in Bangladesh remain relatively low in one of the world’s most densely populated countries, but this is considered to be in part due to the low testing numbers in South Asia. A number of Symbiosis staff and their family members did test positive for the virus, but we are pleased to report that to-date all have recovered. When restrictions were lifted for Bangladeshis in June, Dr Rahman commenced visits to key areas to support the staff and review what other measures we might be able to offer to support our beneficiaries through this latest challenge. He was pleased with the engagement of staff in finding ways to work effectively with their communities as they factored in the additional concerns – both medical and financial impacting beneficiaries due to this virus. We will continue to review the support needed in these communities on an ongoing basis, as the pandemic continues its course.

THE CALL OF HUMANITY DURING COVID-19 Community Based Organisations step up to provide relief to Symbiosis Group Members. Given how many people in Bangladesh are subsistence workers, the impact on family incomes was immediate during the shutdown period. Those who earn their living day-by-day, such as day labourers and rickshaw walahs, suffered significantly as the streets and workplaces of Bangladesh came to an unimaginable standstill.

In April each year, we hold one of our key annual fundraising events: a breakfast in Brisbane with local supporters. When COVID-19 shut down Australia in March 2020, we were concerned about the sort of impact our supporters might be experiencing personally, as well as wondering what changes we may need to consider as we braced for the impact on the organisation both operationally and financially. With you, our supporters by our side, we leapt into the brave new world of socially distanted events and instead held an ‘online breakfast’ in the first week of May 2020. We had no idea what the response might be in terms of participation, as well as our ability to create the interactive atmosphere in the ‘room’ that we would normally enjoy. We were thrilled however to be able to include guests from around Australia

Symbiosis schools closed, the trainees at the beauty school were isolated, and our staff at the Friendship Tower had to cancel all visitor bookings.

Recognising the impact on their community and the needs that were quickly evident, leaders of two of our Community Based Organisations (CBOs) – a collective of Symbiosis Groups - stepped up to provide emergency relief and support to those in most need. – not normally able to attend the breakfast from afar – as well as guests from Brisbane and a number of our Symbiosis Bangladesh leadership team. We were so encouraged by the way our supporters embraced this new format and the interaction and engagement felt from afar. The final amount raised was an incredible $62,280.

They identified 16 particularly vulnerable members of four Symbiosis Groups within their CBO. Taking 3600 taka from their collective fund they purchased goods including rice, peas, popcorn, onion, cooking oil, salt and soap, and made up a pack for each family. With a further 500 taka they also purchased face masks and soap to distribute among five Symbiosis groups. Symbiosis Bangladesh has also provided relief funds to all current CBOs in our network to enable them to facilitate interest-free loans to their members in greatest need.

Page 7 | Symbiosis Annual Report 2020

26/10/20 10:06 pm






IDENTIFYING THE GREATEST NEED: The members of a community who are most in need are identified with help from local community leaders.


AN INVITATION: Those identified are invited to join a group of 20, to meet together to gain a functional education.


EMPOWERMENT THROUGH EDUCATION: Over eight months, members learn basic literacy and numeracy, gain life skills in health and sanitation, and increase their awareness of social issues such as gender equality and the environment.


WEEKLY SAVINGS: As trust develops, members begin to save approximately 20 taka (about 30 cents) per week together. They continue to meet weekly, growing a savings fund from which they can take turns applying for a loan to develop a product or service from which they can generate an income.


THE PITCH: Members begin to present proposals to the group for loans to start micro-enterprises. Once approved by the group and the loan is made, weekly repayments plus interest are returned to the group savings fund to contribute to the loan for the next start up opportunity.


INCREASING THEIR VOICE: When groups are well established, with each member consistently contributing to the savings and successfully repaying loans, they are invited to join with other groups to form a collective – a representative group in their wider area which is registered with the government as a Community Based Organisation.


COMMUNITY STANDING: Once registered with the government, Community Based Organisations are able to more effectively advocate for the needs in their communities and have increased capacity to invest in larger scale social enterprises.

Page 8 | Symbiosis Annual Report 2020

SYM05_Symbiosis AR 2020 AW.indd 8-9

RACING TOWARDS THE GOAL These trailblazers stand as an inspiration to others that if you have the determination and capacity to reach your goals, the usual timeframes don’t always apply. From the very beginning of our work more than 25 years ago, Symbiosis has sought to help the poor not by providing handouts, but through empowerment. This process typically takes considerable time, especially where members – around 90% of whom are women – are extremely poor and have had little or no previous education. Eventually, after about four or five years, most groups have gained the skills and confidence needed to manage their own activities. Having reached this stage, Symbiosis encourages groups to form alliances with other groups in what are known as Community Based Organisations (CBOs). Again, this takes time, so from the time a group forms to when it is part of a CBO is typically six or more years. The Mohamadpur CBO however waits for no-one! Located in a flood-prone area near the Padma River, around 60km west of Dhaka, the nine groups that make up this CBO came together after just three years. When asked how they achieved this, the ladies humbly deny having done anything special, instead pointing to the hard work of the Symbiosis staff supporting them on their journey. When asked about their hopes and dreams their answers provide clues to their sense of urgency. These ladies want their daughters to be educated, they want better and safer houses, they want to be less vulnerable to sickness and they want to have enough money to cope with the inevitable shocks that occur along life’s journey. Few CBOs will be formed in such record time, however Mohamadpur stand as an inspiration to others that if you have the determination and capacity to reach your goals, the usual timeframes don’t always apply.

In 2005, Symbiosis Field Worker Azida invited Sabina to join a Symbiosis Group and begin her functional education. She has now been a member of the Shojoshika – Sunlight – Symbiosis Group for fifteen years.

The mighty Brahmaputra River weaves its way down from the Himalayas on its journey south, forming the eastern boundary of the city of Mymensingh. On the banks of this river, tin sheds house around 15,000 people in a slum area.

Sabina is 37 years old and has two sons and two daughters. She dreams of the day that one of her children might become a doctor. Just 22 when she first got involved and very poor, Sabina also received sewing training at Symbiosis’s Friendship Tower where vocational training courses are conducted.

On the main thoroughfare sits Aisha: a widow and mother of four, with three adult daughters and a son in grade eleven at school. Each day Aisha can be found at her small store making porata (like pita bread) served with a spicy green paste (that tastes a little like wasabi) which she sells to locals for breakfast.

After completing her course she sought support through her Symbiosis Group to create her own business. She began slowly, making only tops, before expanding to making full outfits. She has persevered to create a successful sewing and textile business and now sources her fabric from as far away as the wholesale market in Dhaka. Her Aunt Momota helps with the textile side of the business, selling the fabric.

Aisha started her business after her second daughter, Sabina, encouraged her to join one of the 19 Symbiosis groups that operate in the Mymensingh slum where they live, nine years ago.

Sabina's husband, a labourer, was injured a year or two ago when he fell from the second floor of a building. With her established micro business management skills, she was able to help him start a rice distribution business from their home. Sabina has lived all her life in the main slum area in Mymensingh. She likes living there because there are schools nearby, it is familiar and her home and the population density ensures business is good. However she also reports that a recent clearing of houses along the riverbank was hard on everyone. Many people were displaced and forced to leave and Sabina personally lost 30,000 taka from people whom she had extended credit to, who have now forfeited on their payments.

As a member of the Dtoronto – So Clever - Symbiosis Group, Aisha took numeracy and literacy classes and began saving with the other group members. When the opportunity to take a loan finally came, she borrowed 5,000 taka from her fellow group members, to buy the materials to set up her own micro business. She has long since paid off that loan. From her daily efforts running her breakfast stall, Aisha now takes home around 400 taka each day, slightly more than the official minimum wage of garment factory workers.

Sabina is well-known within her community. She is respected for her business skills and people often seek her out for her advice. She returns regularly to Friendship Tower to share her story and encourage those now in training. She has also persuaded her mother Aisha and two sisters to join Symbiosis groups.

Page 9 | Symbiosis Annual Report 2020

26/10/20 10:06 pm


In addition to working together with beneficiaries to empower their families and communities, Symbiosis is also on a journey towards greater local sustainability. Back in 2003, a separate company, Symbiotic Bangladesh Pvt Ltd was formed to enable our social enterprise activities alongside the activities of the NGO. This allows us to do many things that a NGO cannot do such as generate local income and own property.

As a relatively small organisation, Symbiosis has the capacity to respond quickly and with agility when confronted with situations of real need. This was demonstrated in 2019-20, through our response to particular needs uncovered in the Dhobaura-Haluaghat area of central-northern Bangladesh. In late 2018, at the invitation of Symbiosis, a team of medical students from the University of Western Sydney visited to conduct a health survey in this area. During the course of the survey, the team discovered pockets of very high levels of poverty and disadvantage, with a high prevalence of children with cerebral palsy. A number of children were also found to have heart conditions.

In order to consolidate resources and affirm the close relationship between the two entities, Symbiosis International acquired Symbiotic in 2019. This enables the alignment and simplification of administration and accountability across the organisations. The work of Symbiotic includes a Fish Hatchery in Joyramkura established in 2003, the management of the Friendship Tower in Mymensingh which was built in 2011, and a recently acquired import/export license to allow us to trade goods with Bangladesh. The Symbiotic Fish Hatchery provides training and employment for several men whilst supporting the local fisheries with high quality fingerlings (baby fish). The staff have an ongoing challenge against climate, disease and economic instability. With the help of international experts, these resilient men diligently push through adversity to pursue ongoing viability of the project.

Symbiosis Friendship Tower was constructed in 2011, providing offices and training facilities for Symbiosis projects as well as guest accommodation. Though the centre had to be almost completely closed for a period, the staff have introduced COVID-19 safe practices and provided training to both guests and tenants. This facility has enabled us to build stronger relationships within Bangladesh and help to provide a suitable, low cost facility for local and international visitors to stay when in Mymensingh.

SYMBIOSIS VISITOR PROGRAM The Symbiosis Visitor Program enables individuals and groups to visit Bangladesh to see our work first hand. In the past year we have hosted groups including: medical professionals and students conducting surveys or providing training; other skilled volunteers visiting projects they support; representatives of existing or potential organisational donors, and supporters keen to learn more about the impact they are helping create.


Key medical visitors included two groups of Australian midwives who spent time at Birtara. In addition, another team of medical students from Western Sydney University visited in late 2019 to conduct further health surveys in different parts of the Symbiosis working area. Morris Lee unfortunately had to cut short his March 2020 trip - his last as CEO - when the coronavirus pandemic began to affect global aviation and consideration was being given to closing Australia’s borders. Symbiosis is hopeful it won’t be too long until the Visitor Program can resume, but in the meantime staff are utilising video conferencing and other means to maintain connection between Australia and Bangladesh.

In the past year, Symbiosis responded to needs revealed during the survey in two ways. Firstly, assistance was given to help seven children access heart surgery (with three more on surgery waiting lists). Secondly, 8 children with cerebral palsy were given special wheelchairs to help them access educational opportunities. Over and above this immediate response, Symbiosis, with the support of a phenomenal Christmas Appeal by the Gateway Baptist Church QLD community, has committed to

establishing a long-term community development project to address the underlying causes of poverty. Mr Abdul Aziz, who many Symbiosis supporters in Australia met during his 2018 visit, will head up the project. In preparing for the new project, additional surveys and community consultation identified the neediest people, with plans laid to form 20 new Symbiosis groups with around 400 members in the first half of the new financial year. These people will firstly be taught to read and write, during which time they will also absorb essential information about health, hygiene, nutrition and social and environmental issues. This will lay the foundation for savings and other activities that, over time, will give them the tools they need to find sustainable solutions to poverty. In addition, Symbiosis will continue to assist people with disability – particularly children with cerebral palsy – through the establishment of a treatment facility, providing referrals to disability support providers and awareness raising in the community. The new project will also address maternal and child health and provide eye care services. Short-term responsiveness and long-term commitment. This is Symbiosis working together for good.

A 25 YEAR JOURNEY CELEBRATED IN BANGLADESH January was an exciting and joyful time in Bangladesh with 31 Australians, 4 Americans and a Canadian joining staff and friends of Symbiosis Bangladesh for their Annual Conference and Celebration.

Symbiosis in Bangladesh. The usual annual staff gathering was upgraded to include awards, mementos, speeches, a very large cake, an even larger digital screen, band and smoke machine.

The theme was Journey to Empowerment as together our team celebrated 25 years of the life-changing work of

Current and former staff were recognised and honoured for their years of dedicated service. The celebrations were also attended by leaders from local CBOs who confidently shared their stories of empowerment. A conference highlight was the symbolic passing of the baton from retiring CEO Morris Lee to new CEO Lisa WestNewman. Lisa was welcomed with spontaneous and genuine appreciation by all our Bangladeshi friends, and there was a strong sense that the new era in Symbiosis is going to be very good indeed. Page 11 | Symbiosis Annual Report 2020

SYM05_Symbiosis AR 2020 AW.indd 10-11

26/10/20 10:06 pm



DISABILITY PROGRAM The Symbiosis disability program provided direct assistance to 43 children and 50 people with disability and/or family members in 2019/20. This included involving adults joining two of our Symbiosis Groups which are dedicated to providing specific support to those living with disability, as well as offering vocational training opportunities in partnership with the Vocational Training program. With the identification of the high rates of cerebral palsy in the new project area of Dhobaura, a big-hearted supporter who was part of the University of Western Sydney research group, sought to raise additional funds so we could provide wheelchairs for a number of the children with cerebral palsy in the area, affording them improved quality of life. The first ones were presented in early 2020 with more to follow in coming months. The establishment of a treatment facility, providing referrals to disability support providers and awareness raising in the community will be a significant part of the new project.

EYECARE The year for the Symbiosis Primary Eye Care Service (SPECS) began with the excitement of the opening of the first of two new Vision Centres in partnership with Operation Eyesight. Located in the northern border town of Haluaghat, it is hoped that over time the centre will become sustainable by servicing fee-paying patients as well as providing low-cost eye care to the poor. However, following the opening of the new Vision Centre, the other major SPECS donor (Optometry Giving Sight) informed Symbiosis it would be unable to provide ongoing support for the project. This led to the decision to wind up SPECS as a standalone project and incorporate the eye care work into other Symbiosis projects in 2020/21. With the additional challenge of COVID-19, the SPECS program didn’t quite reach all the targets for the year. However, the gallant efforts of the staff still ensured: > 51,502 people around Haluaghat were surveyed about their eye health > 3870 people (including 548 children) received eye tests > 1962 schoolchildren had their vision screened > 153 teachers and community leaders were trained how to detect eye health problems > 1615 Symbiosis group members participated in an eye health awareness session. Page 12 | Symbiosis Annual Report 2020

SYM05_Symbiosis AR 2020 AW.indd 12-13

MATERNAL AND CHILD HEALTH PROGRAM Our trained Midwife and qualified Skilled Birth Attendants provide a mobile health service within our operating regions, providing antenatal and postnatal classes, improving the knowledge of the traditional birth attendants in the communities as well as educating new parents. In 2019/20, the team provided support and awareness sessions to 5,623 new mothers and fathers. The clinic in Birtara, which opened in 2016, offers a birthing suite for those who need to come in from the villages for delivery.

Symbiosis vocational training and childhood education activities benefit the wider community as well as Symbiosis group members. 627 people successfully completed vocational training courses that will improve their employment opportunities. Vocational training is conducted in regional centres (eg. sewing hairdressing, computing and driving) as well as in rural areas (eg. Animal rearing, aquaculture, horticulture and sewing). Although the country went into lockdown for two months, our Hair and Beauty Training Program was one of the

SAFE DRINKING WATER Safe drinking water within our project areas has been a priority since our testing program commenced in the year 2000. Arsenic, which occurs naturally in the subsoil throughout Bangladesh, can cause serious health issues due to the country’s reliance on ground-water for drinking, food preparation and irrigation of food crops. In 2019/20, the testing of tube-wells continued in our project areas, with 100 tube-wells tested in the past year. Where unsafe levels of arsenic are found, simple three-pitcher filtration systems are provided to families to enable them to produce clean water. Awareness raising about the dangers of arsenic is also carried out within Symbiosis groups in affected areas.

Two of the students are now placed in jobs: an impressive effort in the current climate. We look forward to seeing other students find opportunities as they take their skills and personal development training into their communities.

Using this strategy, over the past two decades thousands of Symbiosis preschool students – both boys and girls – have made a successful transition into primary schools throughout the Symbiosis working area. The eager faces of Shagor and Rasel are a joyful reminder of how Symbiosis is fostering opportunities for a brighter future for children and their parents in Bangladesh.

With many of our staff needing to adhere to lockdown, Bani - who leads the Symbiosis Maternal and Child Health Project – and her team continued their work with pregnant women throughout. We honour these brave Symbiosis staff members who continue to serve their people in these times, alongside the many dedicated health workers around the world.

programs able to resume fairly quickly, with students boarding at Friendship Tower to minimise the risk of them being exposed to COVID in the community. With a slightly condensed course, 14 students were able to graduate.

LEARNING FOR A BETTER FUTURE For Year 2 students Shagor and Rasel, the one kilometre walk to the local government primary school is a joyful experience. Eager to learn, the two friends laugh and chat as they make their way along a rough dirt track through their village near the banks of the mighty Padma River. Even during the wet season, when the boys sometimes have to wade through knee-deep water, they try never to miss a day of school. Once at school, Shagor and Rasel are learning to read and write Bengali, with Shagor doing particularly well with his reading. They also learn mathematics and basic English. Outside the classroom they are fond of playing games and sport with their friends.

EMPOWERMENT FOR FAMILIES OF CHILDREN WITH DISABILITY + VOCATIONAL TRAINING Masada was worried about a future where her son, who has a disability, would not be able to contribute to their family’s income. She was recently provided sewing training, and is now able to make money sewing dresses. Masada is overwhelmed with gratitude for the Symbiosis worker who has provided her with a pathway, and the support of her group, which has enabled her to pursue more sustainable opportunities for their future.

Both Shagor’s and Rasel’s mothers are Symbiosis group members and both boys previously attended the preschool that Symbiosis runs for children in their area. The purpose of these Symbiosis preschools is to give the children of very poor families a head start with their education, which in turn helps them enter the primary school system.

26/10/20 10:06 pm


INDEPENDENT AUDITOR’S REPORT TO THE MEMBERS OF SYMBIOSIS INTERNATIONAL Report on the Audit of the Financial Report Opinion We have audited the accompanying summarised financial report of Symbiosis International Ltd and Controlled Entities (the Group), which comprises the summary consolidated statement of financial position as at 30 June 2020, summary consolidated statement of profit and loss and other comprehensive income, consolidated statement of changes in equity for the year then ended, and related notes, which was derived from the consolidated financial report of Symbiosis International Ltd for the year ended 30 June 2020. We expressed an unqualified auditor’s opinion on that financial report in our auditor’s report.


The work that has suffered the most during the pandemic has been the activities that rely heavily on income produced in Bangladesh. This is primarily the newly acquired Symbiotic businesses of the Symbiosis Friendship Tower in Mymensingh and the Haluaghat Fish Hatchery. The sales revenue suffered substantially during the 2 month Bangladesh wide lock down, subsequent travel restrictions and ongoing economic and public health upheaval. Unless the situation improves for these businesses in the coming year, tough decisions will need to be made including possible further investment in the enterpises, asset sales and staff redundancies. Unfortunately there is no JobKeeper or other substantive government stimulus programs in Bangladesh.

In March 2020, amidst the insecurity of a rapidly escalating global pandemic, we were starting the 2020-21 financial year budget process. The future of the organisation was looking very uncertain and, to be honest, rather bleak. As such we sought out savings in both the Australian and Bangladesh budgets for 2020-21. But due primarily to the generosity of our everyday, loyal supporters, by the end of June 2020, we finished the year in a healthy position. We have also been the recipient of small amounts of Australian Government Stimulus assistance including Cash Flow Boost and JobKeeper (due to only having a small number of part-time employees in Australia). Cash balances for our NGO work for the coming 2020-21 financial year are healthy and with some designated funds in the bank for the following financial year. We will continue to rely on the ongoing generosity of our supporters into the future.

The full financial statements and audit report are available at or from the Symbiosis office.


In our opinion, the information reported in the summarised financial report is consistent, in all material respects, with the financial report from which it was derived. This auditor’s report should be read in conjunction with our audit report on the financial report for a better understanding of the scope of our audit.

Cash Funding Revenue is derived from the financial reports and includes all Income on receipt. It does not include: Interest, Return of Disaster Relief funds, Gain on Bargain Purchase, Commercial Activities Income, Government Subsidies and In-Kind Services

Directors’ Responsibility for the Summarised Financial Report The directors of the Group are responsible for the preparation and presentation of the summarised financial report in accordance with Australian Accounting Standards – Reduced Disclosure Requirements (including Australian Accounting Interpretations) and the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Act 2012. Auditor’s Responsibility Our responsibility is to express an opinion on the summarised consolidated financial report based on our procedures, which were conducted in accordance with Australian Auditing Standards. Those standards require that we comply with relevant ethical requirements relating to audit engagements.





Gateway Baptist Church


Other Organisations


Service Fellowship International



= $1,090,459

Independence In conducting our audit, we have complied with the independence requirements of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Act 2012. MGI Audit Pty Ltd

CHARITY EXPENSES Cash Charity Expenses is derived from the financial reports and includes all Expenses except: Commercial Activities Expenses, In-Kind Services

S C Greene Director Institute Chartered Accountants Australia & New Zealand Member No: 537462 Registered Company Auditor No: 497855

17 October 2020 Brisbane



Programs &  Community Education

10% Accountability & Administration



= $ 895,825

Page 14 | Symbiosis Annual Report 2020

SYM05_Symbiosis AR 2020 AW.indd 14-15

Page 15 | Symbiosis Annual Report 2020

26/10/20 10:06 pm





ASSETS CURRENT ASSETS Cash and Cash Equivalents



Trade and Other Receivables







Restricted Staff Funds

For the year ended 30 June 2020

Total Current Assets

REVENUE Membership Fees Government Subsidies Grants from Australian Charities Grants from Overseas Charities

Derivative Financial Instrument Restricted Disaster Relief Funds













Donations (Monetary)



Non-Monetary (In-Kind) Services



Commercial Activities Income Total Revenue











OTHER INCOME Interest Received Gain on Bargain Purchase of UTE Holdings Pty Ltd Total Other Income

Bangladesh Programs



Bangladesh Program Support





Community Education Fundraising (Public) Expenses



Accountability and Administration



Non-Monetary (In-Kind) Expenses



Commercial Activities Expenses











Total Expenses Surplus (Deficit) before income tax Income Tax Expense Surplus (Deficit) for the year OTHER COMPREHENSIVE INCOME Foreign Currency Revaluation



Total other comprehensive income



Total Comprehensive Income for the year





Surplus (Deficit) attributable to: Members of the Company

Members of the Company

Page 16 | Symbiosis Annual Report 2020

SYM05_Symbiosis AR 2020 AW.indd 16-17








Property, Plant and Equipment



Total Non Current Assets





Total Assets LIABILITIES CURRENT LIABILITIES Trade and Other Payables



Restricted Staff Funds



Total Current Liabilities



Long Service Leave Provision



Total Non Current Liabilities








Net Assets MEMBERS EQUITY Reserves



Retained earnings



Total Members Equity












Balance at 1 July 2018






Surplus (Deficit) attributable to the members of the company
















Balance at 30 June 2019






Balance at 1 July 2019


























Other comprehensive income for the year Transfer to Reserves

Surplus (Deficit) attributable to the members of the company Other comprehensive income for the year

Total Comprehensive Income attributable to:




Total Liabilities



Transfer to Reserves Balance at 30 June 2020


Page 17 | Symbiosis Annual Report 2020

26/10/20 10:06 pm


Dr. David Yates - Chair - is a lecturer and researcher with expertise in agriculture and environment.

Dr. Neil Parker - Deputy Chair - is a public health medicine specialist with management experience in the NGO and government sectors.

David Vance - is a Marine Research Scientist with extensive experience travelling and working in Bangladesh.

The Directors of the Company declare that: 1. The accompanying concise financial report is presented fairly in accordance with Australian Accounting Standards and is consistent with the June 2020 financial statements: (a) the financial statements, associated notes and the accompanying summary reports comply with the presentation and disclosure requirements of the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) Code of Conduct; and (b) give a true and fair view of the financial position and performance as at 30 June 2020 and of the performance for the financial year ended on that date. 2. In the Directors’ opinion there are reasonable grounds to believe that the Company will be able to pay its debts as and when they become due and payable. This declaration is made in accordance with a resolution of the Directors.

Symbiosis International is a registered Australian charity helping transform the lives of Bangladesh’s poorest people through education, health and economic development – working together for good. OUR VISION transformation of the poor and marginalised within their communities in Bangladesh, such that they are freed from exploitation and dependency. OUR MISSION to empower the poor and marginalised in Bangladesh through group formation, education and training, collective savings and peer lending to deliver sustainable development outcomes within community organisations. Symbiosis works with those who are illiterate and landless, mainly women in rural areas, and other disadvantaged groups including ethnic minorities and people with disabilities. OUR VALUES of cultural sensitivity, relationship, accountability, respect, innovation and inclusion underpin our work and drive our people

Lyndall Purcell - is a management consultant with experience in the public and private sectors.

Scott Dale - is a qualified Chartered Accountant and CPA specialising in business development.

Mark Holt - is the Director of an NGO with extensive experience working cross-culturally.

Dr. Morris Lee OAM - CEO (concluded June 2020) - co-founded Symbiosis in 1995, and has worked in development in Bangladesh for 45 years. Lisa West-Newman - CEO (from July 2020) - a Board member from 2014, has a marketing and policy background and ten-years experience working crossculturally in development.

Symbiosis International is a member of ACFID and a signatory to the ACFID Code of Conduct, which is a voluntary, self-regulatory sector code of good practice. As a signatory we are committed and fully adhere to the ACFID Code of Conduct, conducting our work with transparency, accountability and integrity.

Executive Management Team 2019/20 Dr Morris Lee OAM | CEO And Founder Mrs Lisa West-Newman | CEO Elect Mr Roger White | CEO Symbiotic Mr Travis McAuliffe | Chief Finance Officer - Australia Mr Jeff McClintock | Special Projects Manager - Australia Ms Jacqueline Bawtree | Communications Manager We wish to thank all the generous volunteers who have provided essential support to the work of Symbiosis during 2019/20 through their contribution as board members, fundraisers and in the provision of administrative support.

PO Box 6166, Mitchelton, QLD 4053 07 3355 5985

ABN 56 124 671 156 *All figures are Australian dollars throughout the report

Page 18 | Symbiosis Annual Report 2020

SYM05_Symbiosis AR 2020 AW.indd 18-19

Page 19 | Symbiosis Annual Report 2020

26/10/20 10:06 pm

GOING THE DISTANCE Shuma first joined the Symbiosis group Shojoshika – meaning Sunshine – thirteen years ago.

Her first loan of 5000 taka meant they could buy wood offcuts in bulk to make more profit.

Her husband is a woodcutter and goes out into the country in an autorickshaw and collects wood that she sells as firewood.

A second loan of 8000 taka was used to build a shed connected to their house to store the wood in so it will remain dry.

Her savings journey began when she took a small amount from the family's market money each week to contribute to the group’s communal savings.

It is an investment that has paid off and has enabled their son to attend the local school.


SYM05_Symbiosis AR 2020 AW.indd 20

26/10/20 10:06 pm

Profile for 51501BMY5

Symbiosis International  

Symbiosis International Annual Report

Symbiosis International  

Symbiosis International Annual Report

Profile for 51501bmy5

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded